Marilyn Stowe: Growing A Successful Law Firm

Marilyn Stowe remains one of the UK’s most famous family lawyers and legal entrepreneurs.

Known for her formidable legal style when helping divorce clients, Stowe went on to become one of the UK’s authorities in family legal matters.

Her meteoric success originated in 1982 when Stowe founded her firm, Stowe Family Law LLP, in Halton Leeds.

Over the next decade, the former cobbler’s shop in Leeds was joined by 10 additional practices around the country.

During this time, Marilyn Stowe was also appointed to legal advisory groups working with the Law Commission, a mediator and arbitrator, and elected as the first female solicitor outside London to join the Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers.

Whilst Stowe was also a leading figure in securing the release of Sally Clark from prison after she was wrongfully jailed for murdering her two infant sons, Marilyn Stowe is undoubtedly best recognised for building a lucrative and profitable law firm.

In 2017 Marilyn Stowe sold her law firm and blog in a unique multi million pound deal.

As part of the sale conditions, Marilyn agreed a three year non-compete bar on practising as a family lawyer; a date which will come to an end in February 2020.

Now that the sale restrictions are almost at an end, Marilyn Stowe has taken the time to discuss her success, how she grew such a profitable firm and what the future holds.

What are the secrets to nurturing and growing a profitable law firm?

It wasn’t easy and it took me nearly 40 years. Plenty of would be entrepreneurs are money chasers, but they are not money makers and perhaps that’s the secret. For me, it was about offering a well run professional service that attracted clients, including providing free legal advice daily in every office – and at the same time, delivering a healthy bottom line.

This came from many years of listening to clients from every walk of life doing my best to give them what they need, but also producing a successful financial model that could be reproduced in every location I opened across the country. Getting the mix right meant I turned in an increased profit every year I was in practice and client satisfaction rates were consistently high.

When did you first start thinking of exiting or selling your firm?

It came gradually. I had a bad experience outside my Leeds office in 2003, when I was attacked by
3 masked men and robbed. This led me to close that office and move to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, where we were immediately very successful despite a fresh start.
During the recession, bucking the trend, I decided to open a second office in Cheshire, going out to clients rather than waiting for them to come to us. It worked very well, so I kept going and developed that strategy nationally. Then when it became possible for non-lawyers to invest via an Alternative Business Structure (ABS), a sale to investors became my goal.

What are the perfect ingredients for a planned and successful exit?

I sold a solely owned, highly profitable, debt free firm with an established national brand supported by my eponymous blog which was ranked in the top ten worldwide. Our lawyers were well respected and the financial model demonstrably worked and could be repeated successfully in many other locations.

How difficult was it to walk away from a firm that you had built from the ground up?

At times naturally it has been difficult. I was always the front face of the firm and enjoyed writing for my blog. The firm changed direction after I left. However, my husband gave me some wise advice. He likens it to selling a much loved house lived in for nearly 40 years. I was very well paid for it and moved out. The new owners are entitled to do whatever they wish with their property.

How has your time been spent since selling Stowe Family Law LLP?

It’s passed very quickly. Retiring well is a subject in itself! I organised a successful auction of some of my clothes post retirement and donated the proceeds to St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds, of which I’m now Patron and enjoy my involvement with them. I have also begun to support the Leeds Hospitals Trust. My husband is semi retired so we travel all over the world. A few months ago, we were exploring Machu Pichu in South America. Today, I’m taking part in this interview from Sydney Australia, and will be away for the next month.

Now that your bar on practising family law is set to end in February 2020, what does the future hold?

I headed up the Law Society Family Law Panel from inception and six years later working part time left it the largest panel they had. I became one of the first mediators and arbitrators in family law and Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers. I built up and sold the UK’s largest family law firm. I’ve represented literally thousands of clients and became nationally known in the media for thirty years. Is there a reason for me to return to family law? Good question. Watch this space.

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